ISSUE 88  |  Take My Zucchini Please

Take the El to 46th Street and Get Off at the Farm

September 01, 2013 4:00 PM

BY Michelle Slatalla

For a long time, a weed-clogged vacant lot in the shadow of West Philadelphia’s elevated train tracks looked so much like the sad, forgotten sliver of land it was that it was practically a cliché. Close your eyes and see the chain link fence, the leftover building materials, the transit authority trucks. Now open them–all gone.

Today, there’s a pollinator garden on the quarter-acre site, and an edible hedgerow, and an orchard, and a platoon of volunteers–including a local Girl Scout troop–who tend raised beds and pitch in for seasonal cleanups. The Walnut Hill Community Farm, created and operated since 2010 by The Enterprise Center with substantial funding support from the nonprofit Local Initiatives Support Corporation, replaced a vacant eyesore with a pocket park and working farm in Philadelphia’s Walnut Hill neighborhood. Says farm manager Allison Blansfield: “We are completely out in the open, right across the street from a grocery store and near the el, and at rush hour, you really hear all these city noises.”

Photographs by David Ferris.

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Above: A small tool shed, viewed through the kale crop. In partnership with Urban Tree Connection, Walnut Hill Community Farm grows organic vegetables for 68 customers who receive weekly shares of the harvest during the growing season.

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Above: Salad greens, including red sail lettuce; The Enterprise Center has a 30-year lease and pays $1 a year to rent the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transit Authority’s land.

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Above: There’s a little of everything in the farm’s “crazy spring mix,” including arugula, spinach, and red leaf lettuce.

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Above: The farm also has a community garden with 15 raised beds tended by local residents.

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Above: Bee balm and echinacea in the farm’s pollinator garden, designed to attract bees.

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Above: A fig tree and echinacea. Last year, the farm partnered with Philadelphia Orchard Project, which planted native fruit trees, a berry garden, an edible hedgerow, and the pollinator garden.

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Above: The farm harvests water off the roof of the El station at 46th and Market streets; water is stored in two 1,100 gallon cisterns on the farm.

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Above: Tomatoes grow against deer fencing. Planted intensively, the farm’s raised beds yield 1,000 pounds of produce a year. The soil is 12 inches deep in the beds (an increase over a previous depth of 5 inches doubled the garden’s yield).

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Above: Queen Anne’s Lace in the pollinator garden.

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Above: A bee on a butterfly bush.

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Above: Yarrow attracts birds and butterflies, as well as bees.

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Above: Dill, gone to seed.

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Above: The back side of the farm fronts Ludlow Street; purple phlox and Queen Anne’s Lace welcome visitors. N.B.: Looking for inspiration? For 122 more images of Urban Farms, see our Gallery of rooms and spaces.)